Lombardo, state officials unveil program to track school district performance
Nevada officials on Thursday announced a new accountability initiative to measure the effectiveness of the state’s education spending, on the heels of historic legislative spending for public schools and new data showing proficiency continues to slip post-pandemic.
Gov. Joe Lombardo and State Superintendent Jhone Ebert unveiled the Acing Accountability initiative, which will assess math proficiency and literacy rates across school districts and charter schools. It will also measure how prepared high school graduates are for success and whether school districts have the necessary workforce to meet student needs.
The new program comes after the Legislature in June passed an $11.6 billion, two-year budget that provided a $2.6 billion increase in education spending. Legislators also passed SB98, which requires the state superintendent to establish performance metrics for each grade and make that data available online. Lombardo pledged at the start of the year to tie any increased education funding to accountability measures.
School proficiency rates declined because of the pandemic, and data released by the Nevada Department of Education (NDE) last week shows many state schools are still reporting another round of year-over-year proficiency drops.
“It is not acceptable,” Ebert said of statewide proficiency data. “We need to move now. Our children are phenomenal human beings who have the capacity to learn how to demonstrate their skill set at a much higher level.”
The new program will track literacy rate growth among students in kindergarten through third grade, and math proficiency among students in grades 4 through 8. The state already collects this data, but the program sets new performance goals. The initiative will also look at district-wide data, not only specific schools.
Under the program, the state expects 65 percent of students in grades K-3 to meet or exceed their personalized learning growth goals in reading. Personalized goals are determined based on student test results. In the 2022-23 school year, around 48 percent of students met or exceeded their reading goals.
The state also expects each district to increase literacy and math proficiency rates by 5 percentage points. Statewide, 33 percent of K-3 students were considered proficient in reading and writing in the 2022-23 school year, while math proficiency rates stood at 29 percent for grades 4 through 8.
“If children can read, write by third grade, then they're set up to have access to all the rest of the curriculum, the science, the social studies, all of the pieces,” Ebert said.
In the NDE data released last week, most schools reported a loss in English and science proficiency rates in the 2022-23 school year. Math proficiency rose at most schools.
In the Clark County School District, which represents nearly two-thirds of the state’s students, 32 percent of K-3 students met literacy proficiency rates, while 27 percent of grades 4-8 students were proficient in math during the last school year.
In a statement on Thursday, CCSD commended the new program.
“Now that the state has established metrics, we will continue rebounding our students to produce improved outcomes,” the statement said. “While the Board and Superintendent are ultimately accountable for results, accountability must exist at every level.”
In a statement on Thursday, the Clark County Education Association also lauded the new program but said they have “no confidence” in district officials “to live up to this standard for improved student outcomes.”
The state also expects school districts and charter schools to show a 20 percent annual decrease in unfilled staff positions, or for at least 95 percent of classrooms to have a licensed educator, not including substitutes. And, it calls for at least 75 percent of high school students to be enrolled in at least one course that counts toward requirements for the College and Career Ready Diploma.
“We believe that by investing money in processes and results, we can improve student and educator effectiveness,” Lombardo said.
However, there is nothing in state law or NDE policies that outlines the recourse the state would take if districts do not meet these goals, Lombardo said. He added his administration is looking to present more ways to hold districts accountable if they do not meet the goals during the next legislative session in 2025.
Before that, however, he said the state needs “to continue the conversation on school choice” — a term that encompasses the fraught Opportunity Scholarships program that allows corporate funding exchanged for tax credits to provide annual scholarships for private school tuition for students under certain income thresholds.
“This will bolster that conversation as we move forward,” Lombardo said.